FTC warns consumers about paying scammers with gift cards

FTC warns consumers about paying scammers with gift cards
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(WAFB) - With the holidays quickly approaching, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is warning consumers about scammers stealing money via gift cards.

Gift cards are, of course, popular presents, but they’re also a popular way for scammers to steal money from unsuspecting consumers. The FTC reminds buyers gift cards are for gifts, not to make payments. Anyone requesting payment via a gift card is always a scammer.

The scam comes in many forms. Someone might call claiming to be from the IRS to collect back taxes of fines. The scammer might also say they’re from “tech support,” asking for money to fix your computer. The scammer may even go so far as to claim to be a family member with an emergency in need to money immediately.

While the scams differ, they all have a common thread: the urgent need for you to send money. Scammers will sometimes ask for money to be wired, but more and more frequently, they’re asking consumers to put money on a gift card and provide them with the gift card number or PIN.

Other scams in which the caller may demand payment via gift card include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Callers pretending to be from a utility company, telling you to pay your bill by gift card or they’ll cut off your power or water
  • Sellers on online auction sites who ask for gift cards to “buy” big items like cars, motorcycles, boats, RVs, tractors and electronics
  • Someone posing as a service member to get your sympathy, saying he has to sell something quickly before deployment and needs you to pay by gift card
  • Callers who say you’ve won a so-called prize, for a sweepstakes you probably never entered, but first, you have to use a gift card to pay fees or other charges
  • Someone buying something from you, probably online, who sends a check for more than the purchase price, and asks you to give them the difference on a gift card. (That check, by the way, will turn out to be fake.)

What should you do if you’ve paid a scammer with a gift card?

Consumers who fall victim to a gift card scam should tell the company that issued the gift card right away. Victims should ask for a refund because if you act quickly enough, the company may be able to get the stolen money back.

Report Scams


  • Call 1-888-280-4331
  • Learn about about Amazon gift card scams here.

Google Play

  • Call 1-855-466-4438
  • Report gift card scams online here
  • Learn about Google Play gift card scams here


  • Call 1-800-275-2273 then press 6 for other, then say “operator” to be connected to a live representative
  • Learn about iTunes gift card scams and how to report them here


  • If you have a Steam account, you can report gift card scams online here
  • Learn about Steam gift card scams here


  • Call 1-866-795-7969
  • Report a MoneyPak card scam online here

If you don’t see the card you purchased on this list, search online for how to reach the card issuer. Contact the FTC about scams and fraud here, or call 1-877-FTC-HELP.

Giving and receiving gift cards as gifts

If you get or give a gift card, here are some steps to follow:

  • Buy gift cards from sources you know and trust. Avoid buying gift cards from online auction sites, because the cards may be counterfeit or stolen.
  • Inspect a gift card before you buy it. Check that none of the protective stickers have been removed. Make sure that the codes on the back of the card haven’t been scratched off to show the PIN. Report any damaged cards to the store selling the cards.
  • Keep the receipt with the gift card. Whether you’re giving or getting, try to keep the original purchase receipt, or the card’s ID number, with the gift card.
  • Read the terms and conditions of the gift card. Is there an expiration date? Are there fees to use the card, or for shipping and handling? Will fees be taken out every time you use the card, or after it sits unused for some period of time?
  • Use the card as soon as you can. It’s not unusual to misplace gift cards or forget you have them. Using them early will help you get the full value.
  • Treat gift cards like cash. If your card is lost or stolen, report it to the card’s issuer immediately. You might not get back the money left on the card – or you might get some, perhaps for a fee. You might need to show the receipt and the ID number on the card. Most issuers have toll-free telephone numbers you can call to report a lost or stolen card – find it on the card or online.

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